Google Chrome OS: why would I want this (and where YOU can get it now)

Google Chrome OS.  Two words and two letters that add up to…nothing.  Google recently held a press conference, a dog and pony show, to show off what they have done, so far, with their new ‘operating system.’  If what they showed off is anywhere close to what they intend to release next year, then the words ‘operating system’ become meaningless.  What Google is doing is, essentially, a minimalist Linux with the Chrome browser grafted on as the UI.  Given the devices that this thing is being targeted, it really ceases to become an operating system and more of a terminal application.  Or, in other words, a browser device.  Less a computer and more a dumb terminal, akin to the old ADM-3A terminals from Lear-Siegler back in the late 1970’s and earl 1980’s.

To be fair, the virtual images floating around the ‘net are NOT from Google and were compiled from the source code that Google released after it’s press conference.  The image I am using is from the GDGT website. It barely qualifies as an alpha release, so much of what I am about to discuss could very well change.

First, the good stuff.

Since Chrome OS is, essentially, the Chrome browser, you pretty much already know how to use the ‘OS’ if you have used the Chrome browser.  The user interface is pretty much the same.  And since it is JUST a browser, there’s little in the way of setup.  Also, you have very little control over the look and feel.  This makes it really simple to use, so simple, in fact, that grandma and grandpa could get email and view those photos and videos of little Johnny and Sue without having to call the family tech support.  Your data is stored in the cloud, so backup is not needed.  Since it is not Windows (or Mac OS X) and lacks the ‘smarts’ of a real operating system, it is pretty much immune to viruses and, thus, anti-virus is not necessary.  All applications are web based, so there isn’t anything to install.  Sounds ideal, huh?

Now, the bad stuff.

It is just a browser, has little local storage, is designed for solid state drives ONLY, does not support local applications (but, supposedly, will have an ‘offline’ mode) and lacks any user customization (unless you know the secret key combinations to access a Linux terminal, but, then, there goes the whole simplicity argument.)  Keep in mind, this ‘release’ is barely an alpha release so much of this MIGHT change, but it probably won’t.  Google has stated that they intend this to be a connected device, i.e. always connected to the Internet. 

The one thing that people seem to gloss over are the internet provider caps.  As with streaming video, these caps could be reached pretty quickly, depending on how much you use your Chrome OS device.  With caps as low as 5 gb, one could hit them pretty quickly.  A few large documents, spreadsheets, a couple of movies, photo uploads and viewings and, tada…you’ve hit your limit.  Now what?  Granted, casual users probably have nothing to worry about and, I suspect, are going to be the initial target audience for these things.

While an inexpensive device running Chrome OS could be a useful tool, especially for family members (not necessarily grandparents, I over generalized there) who are not computer savvy or care to be or for those who just need or want to use web mail, surf the ‘net quickly.  For anyone who needs to do real work, however, this is not for them.  Yes, you can hit the web-based ‘productivity’ suites and, yes, you can store your data in the cloud, you cannot use it off line and you risk losing ownership of YOUR data, especially if the cloud based service you are using (it does not have to be Google) goes out of business or, for whatever reason, cuts your access.  If you lose connectivity, you may lose your data.  For me, this is a deal breaker. 

Personally, I don’t see much use for Chrome OS.  With cheap computers, Windows 7 or even a real Linux, the market for Chrome OS seems pretty small.  For it to succeed, it needs dirt cheap devices.  Under $100 (US) is probably the right target.  I’d go so far as to say under $50.  Maybe something like the ZipIt or something in the same form factor as the netbook. Anything more than that, however, would be a waste since the ‘OS’ would not be able to take advantage of the extra capability. 

Now, where is that ADM-3A?


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